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Liz Ryan Headshot

The Awful Truth about the Black Hole

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People say "I know, I know, Liz, it's a waste of time lobbing resumes into the Black Hole, but I do it anyway -- I can't help it."

I always ask them "I want to understand. You've told me that using the Black Hole is a waste of time, and when you're fake-applying for a job that way, some real person is getting that job through another channel, right?" They squirm. They stammer. I try to give them space. "You must have a good reason for sticking with that technique, despite the lousy ROI," I say to get them talking.

When you've learned through painful experience that a given approach doesn't work, how do you justify doing the same thing over and over again anyway?

When I press my friends to tell me why they'd keep trudging down a tunnel in the mouse maze that has no cheese at the end of it, they admit that they're afraid to buck authority. "If these guys [the resume screeners manning the Black Hole] get mad at me for end-running them," they say when prompted to explain themselves, "they might blackball me from consideration for any job in the company."

I can understand that hesitation -- anyone could. (Little do they know that few HR people have that kind of power -- but even if they did, imagine working for a company like that! "This person wrote to the manager directly, and is therefore forever ineligible for employment," some bureaucrat might say. Hurrah! If that happened to you, you would have dodged a bullet. Imagine what the culture would be like in such a fear-based place?)

I thought it might give reticent rule-breakers confidence to color outside the job-search lines if they heard from an ex-HR chief (me) just how brutal and pointless the whole Black Hole recruiting deal is. Here are few stories in that vein, to chew on:

We Never Saw It, Because We Didn't Want To

While countless job-search advice articles tell job-seekers things like "If you apply for jobs and never hear back from the employer, that means you weren't qualified," job-seekers feel as though they have one more, massive hill to climb. You're an employer. You place a job ad. A lot of people apply for the job. Some of them seem to be well-qualified and others don't. Is that any excuse not to respond to every single one of them?

Of course not. It's terribly rude to run an ad -- to request business correspondence, that is -- and then to blow off 99 percent of the people who respond. It's tacky and it's unprofessional. Whether or not a person is qualified in the eyes of an HR screener, that person still deserves a response. There's literally no excuse for subjecting job-seekers to the famous job-search Radio Silence technique, but lots of employers think nothing of it. Instead of worrying about whether your resume passed muster or not, I'd tell you to immediately cross these clueless employers off your target list. If they can't be human with you (no matter how well you match the stated job requirements) they don't deserve you.

If your job-search activities have been confined to pitching resumes into the void, it's only natural that you'd get discouraged. The best employers don't even use Black Hole portals for their recruiting. Lots of other firms use them, but make most of their hires through other channels. (I've written zillions of articles about how to circumvent the Black Hole -- many of them here on the Huffington Post. You'll find them listed in my articles archive, or jump to my site for E-books and podcasts on that topic.)

Your Mojo Is Your Job-Search Fuel

I don't want you to be discouraged. Mojo is the fuel that will power your job search. That leads us to one of the biggest problems with the Black Hole paradigm -- it sucks away your mojo. Every time you pitch a resume into the gaping maw of another corporate recruiting site, a little piece of you dies.

But problems with the Black Hole aren't limited to its mojo-sucking properties.

Lots of employers run job ads and then don't look at the resumes they receive. One hiring manager called me to ask me about online discussion groups where Project Managers could be found. I gave him a few ideas, and while we chatted I jumped to his company's recruiting site. "You've got that job listed on the company's Careers site," I said. "What happens to the resumes that you get that way?"

Bullets Over Talent

"HR is much stricter than I am about resumes matching the listed job qualifications," he said. "I don't care about half that stuff. I want someone smart and nimble. But HR says we have to stick to the letter of the law. If someone doesn't have every qualification listed on the job ad, I never see the resume." That's a good reason to shun Black Holes on your job search --- your hiring manager (aka Your Next Boss -- Why Not?) will never see your resume if you send it that way.

Here's another problem. When your resume hits the Black Hole, you're immediately sucked into the HR Screening vortex. That means that unless it's a very small company, the person passing judgment on your suitability for the role is not your manager -- it's an HR person, and most likely a young and inexperienced one.

The Baby Screener

I got a call last week from Jennifer, who'd just gotten off the phone with a person she called The Baby Screener. "The Baby Screener asked me if I'm proficient in business communication," she told me. "I told her 'I write very much as I speak. How'm I doing so far?' but she didn't laugh. She sounded terrified, and she sounded about 22 years old. I'm applying for a position in Strategic Planning. The poor girl wouldn't know a business plan if it hit her in the face. How can they put people like that on the front end of the pipeline?"

How can they do it? They do it because they believe that in those early stages, the selection process is a sifting and sorting exercise. It isn't, of course -- it's a getting-to-know-you and energy-matching time, but you'd never know it to examine a typical Black Hole screening process. You're better off avoiding the Black Hole and writing to your hiring manager, by name, directly using snail mail. Send a Human-Voiced Resume (TM) and a Pain Letter (TM) to that person and meet HR on your last round of interviews, if then.

Just Say No (to Everyone)

Here's one more reason to steer clear of Black Holes on your job search. A guy called me to tell me a story about his own Black Hole experience. "I worked for Oracle as a Product Manager, and I saw an opening pop up on another local employer's website," he told me. "The job was literally exactly what I'd been doing for ten years. To be honest, there was no stretch in it for me, but I figured I'd throw my hat in there and see what happened. I filled out the online application form and uploaded my resume at about six p.m. one night.

I didn't expect to hear anything that night, of course, but I got an auto-response message around nine p.m. It said 'We're sorry, but the job is not a good match for your skills.' Dang, I thought, they're cutting this pretty finely. I re-read the job ad six times, and couldn't find anything on it that I was missing. Oh well, I thought, and I went to bed."

"The next morning I checked my inbox and there was another message from the same company's auto-responder. This one said 'Good news! We've found a job that is a closer match to your background.' I clicked. It was a Food Service job in their lunchroom.

Now I was really curious, and I wasn't working, so I got on the phone and started calling around. Within an hour I got a hold of a recruiter in that company. 'I'm so happy to hear from you,' she said. 'You sound perfect for our Product Manager opening.' I couldn't believe it! I told her the story. 'How come your site bounced me for the Product Manager thing, but wanted to tell me about a Food Service job?'"

"The recruiter filled me in. It turns out that she's so swamped with openings -- I think she had sixty-two jobs to fill, for one recruiter, and she said other recruiters had more - that she'd given up on the Black Hole entirely as a channel. She had to input her openings into the system, but she set the dial to zero every time. She told the system, in effect, to reject every application. That's why I got my No Thanks email at night when no one was working. The job was posted, but the thing was set up to automatically sent a No Thanks message to everyone. If I hadn't called her, the recruiter would never have known I existed."

"I asked her why I got the Food Service job alert. She told me that when she set the dial to Say No to Everyone on the recruiting site, it wouldn't accept that setting, for obvious reasons. So she hit the default and told the system to send everyone (like me) all new job openings that came up in the company."

Hearing the guy's story, I was curious how the company filled its openings at all. He told me that the overburdened recruiter found her own candidates on LinkedIn. Is that large tech company the only employer that disses rule-following job seekers all the way up to rejecting every single application (all the ones, that is, sent in by people who do what the job ad tells them to)? I doubt it. This is the horrifying truth about the Black Hole: it's not your friend. It's not made to help the company hire great people like you. It's made to keep people out and to give fearful screeners something to do. It's designed to reduce you to keywords and numbers and to crush your spark so that you take whatever job you're offered. The Black Hole is an evil and pernicious cog in the machine whose aim is to keep human power out of organizations. Do you really want to put your job-search faith there?